Take this example for contrast. A woman testifies: I am glad that I own a gun because when that man tried to break into my house, it was that gun that protected me and my baby. It’s hard to dispute this mother’s position and essential role. She is bound in time to this critical, difficult, moment. But time-travelling tricksters, taking nothing seriously, are untethered from the present moment, and just as certainly fulfill the role—through their antics, through humor, tricks, laughter and lightheartedness—of imagining a world where such threats do not occur. An even more grim example is the story Viktor Frankl tells, in Man’s Search for Meaning,of Holocaust prisoners whose souls survived by retaining humor in the midst of genocide.
If we entertain this notion of time-traveling tricksters roaming around the past and the future, then . . . why? Not to accumulate power, but its opposite. We cannot dissolve power with power, but tricksters like the Fool, like Bugs, mock power and nudge us towards a society where the power of play prevails over the play of power. Where time is the x-factor that exposes the linearity of human progress and opens us to a scenic, time-mashed, dreamward view.
The absurdist Alfred Jarry was the rare human who aspired to this state. He seemed to spring forth fully formed. His creations—poems, The Ubu Cycle plays, essays like How to Construct a Time Machine, and fiction, especially The Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, ’Pataphysician—confound efforts at a developmental theory. His style can be described as scenic; everything is happening at once. Dialogue emerges from the scenery, starts to make sense, but then dissolves back into hallucination. Unbound by time, Jarry invented modern art even though it was born years after he died. Time travel yields these insights, a panoramic view of the past and a prospective hope for the future. Taking in multiple moments all at once can yield a vision where the fluidity of time dissolves the bonds of power.
The Tricksters of folklore and mythology tend to wander alone. They reveal truth, often through mockery. They do not take power seriously. They cross boundaries, including the boundaries of time. Their tricks confound time. Time travel frees them from temporality, from current events. Like a pogo stick bouncing onto different moments, it connects-the-dots to form themes and give perspective, inspiring visions that break the cycles of power.
We all face events that bind us mightily to a moment in time. The tragic loss of a loved one. The witness, participation or victimization of war, or of crime. Falling in love. Celebrity. Moments destined for history. But time travelers have a special relationship with time, history, and circumstance. Their perspective, born of detachment from events, stokes the imagining of possible futures. Dystopian visions reify the bonds of power, violence, repression and force. Utopian visions break them. While time travel initially liberates from the present, it ultimately presents the prospect of liberation from all bonds.The message of the time traveler carries a meaningfulness deeper than the phenomenon itself.